Resident concerned over safety of bridge

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

David Phalen stands on the Judson Road bridge in Franklin Township, a cordless drill in one hand, the other hand steadying a board.

Phalen, who has been using his own materials to repair the railing of the bridge in an effort to protect neighborhood children who play there, seemed unconcerned that his handiwork may be destroyed when the bridge is eventually fixed.

"They're just two-by-fours," he said. "They're only a buck and a half. What's a kid's life worth?"

While county and railroad officials debate about how much is enough to spend to upgrade the bridge, owned by the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad, residents are worrying about the safety of the closed bridge.

The closure of the bridge has necessitated detours for residents, school buses and emergency vehicles alike. And until it is upgraded _ a project that may be three months away or longer _ residents also worry about the children who use the bridge as a place to play.

Phalen said his sons, ages 7, 9, and 14, and many of their friends gather on the bridge, despite Phalen's constant warnings that they should avoid the bridge. The activity has become a concern to Phalen and other parents because many of the guardrails along the side are weak, broken or missing.

"They use it for a ramp," he said. "I've seen some of them sitting on the rails."

Phalen said he has told his sons to stay off the bridge to no avail, and decided to fix the handrails to prevent one of the boys from "doing anything stupid."

"Something's going to happen," he said, surveying the weak wooden railing. "I just hope it isn't one of my boys."

Portage County Engineer Michael Marozzi said the although the bridge is not safe for vehicles, it is still safe to walk on. A pile of dirt at each end of the bridge prevents vehicles from driving on the bridge, but does not prevent pedestrian access.

Bill Callison, vice president for legal affairs at the railroad, said he was not aware of the pedestrian activity on the bridge and will work with local officials to try to prevent pedestrian access to the bridge.

Meanwhile, railroad and county officials remain at odds over how much to spend on the bridge.

Railroad officials have offered to spend about $25,000 to upgrade the bridge, but only to a 4-ton weight limit. The bridge, which had previously carried a 30-ton limit, remains closed indefinitely because of structural deficiencies.

"It was closed because of structural deficiencies with the foundation of the bridge," Marozzi said. "There was a reasonable amount of movement in it. We've very concerned about the stability of the bridge given the amount of movement that was observed there."

Callison, vice president for legal affairs at the railroad, said the township signed an agreement 10 years ago to post a 4-ton limit on the bridge, and had it been posted, the bridge probably would not be in such poor condition now.

"It has hurt the bridge," he said. "It was never intended to handle that much weight when it was first constructed at the turn of the century."

He said the railroad would be willing to invest the money to either bring it back to the 4-ton limit outlined in the agreement signed in 1986, or to use that money and other state and local dollars to upgrade the bridge to a higher limit.

Franklin Township Trustee Keith Benjamin said the only complaints from residents he has received so far are from people upset that the bridge is closed. He said as soon as the bridge was closed, letters were sent to safety forces and the school district.

"I haven't talked to anybody about this yet, but it would be my intention to work with the county and the trustees to see if we could contribute additional money to bring this bridge back up the 30-ton limit it was so school buses can use it," he said. "We're really going to take care of the whole problem as quickly as possible."

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.